Mind the gap

Posted on 6 Nov 2014 by Callum Bentley

Skills Gap Programme Director at the D&T Association Cheryl Phillips stresses the importance of schools developing students’ practical and technical skills.

Skills Gap Programme Director at the Design & Technology Association Cheryl Phillips
Skills Gap Programme Director at the Design & Technology Association Cheryl Phillips

With the growth in the number of apprenticeship opportunities within companies large and small, increasing numbers of young people are opting to take an apprenticeship. Some chose their path because they are expecting to still have the opportunity to pursue their educational aspirations whilst also working.  Therefore, years of college/university and debt seem pointless when they feel they’ll end up in the same job anyway.

As has been well publicised, there haven’t been as many companies who have defined the internal pathway from entry and intermediate apprenticeships to higher educational routes.  This is an area the government seems keen to support and recently more funding was announced through the Employer Ownership: Improving Engineering Careers, to support the progression of individual careers and look to bring new people into engineering.

If we continue on this trajectory, overtime, we could see a proportional shift towards more young people choosing to pursue a route into work and/or higher education via an apprenticeship.  There are other factors which would influence this including teachers, parents and not least of all, the value that schools place upon an apprenticeship route as a suitable destination after GCSE, A-level or equivalent qualifications.

A further area where schools can influence this agenda is the extent to which students are exposed to technical and practical skills. We could assume that as long as schools provide young people with core subjects that employer can do the rest.  Of course, it isn’t that simple.

As the HR manager from Birmingham-based Brandauer told me, they need to be ‘practically minded’.  It once again really highlighted the important role schools play. Employers do need to provide bespoke training but they will depend upon schools to instil other abilities.  This foundation needs to, at least in part, already be present.  This is concerning when a subject likes Design & Technology (D&T), which enables student to design and make, is seeing a decline.  This is all influenced by league tables and the accountability measures placed upon schools.

What is clear is that it would be detrimental to neglect technical skills development during school years.  Clearly, employers need to be in the driving seat, but the development of skills must start at schools if the required numbers of applicants are to be achieved.